ENTER: The White Mountains
Damn. All of a sudden my tan is gone. I guess it fits, I was feeling less than festive for the coming trek looking like I was vacationing in Florida for a month. Now, entering the White Mountains, I’ll fit right in! (Please Excuse My Dear Awful Senseofhumour). The great and massive White Mountains of New Hampshire dominate the landscape before me, shrouded in mist with peaks rising like rocky abandoned islands on a milky sea. This will be our first time above treeline, though the mountains themselves aren’t even the tallest we’ve seen (or climbed). Of all the mountains in the Whites the most intense and intimidating by far is Mt Washington, the second highest peak on the AT at 6,288′. Besides never failing to kill a few people every year, this behemoth is home to the second highest recorded wind speed outside of a tornado coming in at an insane 231mph (the highest was in Australia during Tropical Cyclone Olivia in 1996 with speeds up to 253mph). Needless to say, we’re all keeping on the safe side and avoiding the treacherous and rapidly changing weather when necessary — days like today, coincidentally, fall into that category. The weather up here in our neck of New England has been horrendous, though fortunately not crossing over to murderous just yet. Either the hygrometers and thermometers have been at redline or it has poured bitter cold cats and dogs on us for days on end. That isn’t too say we haven’t been doing any hiking, we don’t exactly have the luxury of sitting on our hands just because the air conditioning fails or the sky leaks, we just haven’t done as much as we would like. Just the other day we all suffered through 15 miles in a downpour, including setting up camp. Let me just say, nothing is more detrimental to the spirit than crawling into camp after dark, soaked and frozen to the bone, only to find the shelter full and no good space to set up. Oh yea, and the obnoxious icing on the cake, embodied by the day hiker asking stupid questions from her cozy sleeping bag inside the dry shelter while we huddled under the awning, was a huge bonus. Outside, I was freezing. Inside, I was burning with hellfire. Lovely woman. So it goes. There isn’t much you can do on days like that, just get up the next day, wet knickers burning holes in your thighs and all, and get moving. As the saying goes, “No Rain, No Pain, NO MAINE.” Suck it up and have a good laugh at yourself, what else can you do?
As luck would have it, we didn’t have to do too much in the way of suffering chafed thighs for days on end. “The trail provides,” is more than just a common phrase out here and for good reason. We made our way into the tiny town of Lyme, NH with a dryer on the mind and happened on way more than we bargained for. The clouds were bearing down menacingly, as clouds do, when an angel stepped onto the scene, two pairs of lawn shears in hand and two youngsters in tow. By way of introduction she asked if we needed a place to stay and a shower. Just like that we had a roof and free shower/laundry before we even got her name (turns out it’s Julie). She thru-hiked in ’97 and made our lives immensely easier. We helped her build a few things, she fed us a few things. We had a few beers and shared a few experiences from our respective lives. All in all we got what we needed most, a boost in morale. The following day she bid us farewell as we marched back out to the woods, our clothes dry and our spirits in the sky. Thank you Julie, you’re a lifesaver.
We climbed a few mountains after that, just another ordinary couple days, the weather even played along — for awhile.
Coming back to the present, yesterday the sky took a great big piss on us, again. Go figure. It wasn’t really a big deal, though we were cold and wet and exhausted as per usual. At the end of our 16 mile day we landed at a hostel with no intention of paying the exorbitant $15 to tent but $2.50 to dry our clothes, once again, sounded delightful. Captain and Rainbow picked up their packages (the real reason for coming) and we very quickly decided to vacate this anthill of hiker activity in favour of ANYTHING ELSE. Too many people and too much confusion was quickly throwing us all overboard into a tumultuous lake of too much anxiety.
At this point we very nearly turned tail and slogged our way straight back to the woods (even laundry was going to take too long). On a lark we decided to make a phone call.
Through the LAN line’s static we found salvation — AGAIN. I’m currently sitting at Julie’s kitchen table, where I’ve been lounging while watching Sunshine (new hiker friend) watching the kids all day, scratching this out in my notebook. Who are the luckiest hikers in the great state of New Hampshire? That’s right, it’s us.
Tomorrow we fly out of here at 7am and climb the biggest, baddest, gnarliest mountain I’ve ever seen. Mt Mousalake awaits, standing tall as the guardian of the Whites. Here we go! Kowabunga!!
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Glad you didn’t have to go up Mt. Washington! The weather guys up there get from place-to-place with ropes. When it’s safe to go out anyway. I talked to a guy that worked up there, he said it was like living in a jet stream.
Expect cold nights and possible icing this time of year…changeover weather patterns are the norm right around Labor Day…hiked “THE ROCKPILE” 6 times and twice on Labor Day so I speak from a modecum of experience…be prepared for icing andhigh wind…but savor the experience and hope for good luck…in the “WHITES” it is what it is and that can change in 30 minutes…great blog BTW.